When Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced Monday that the White House will soon be installing solar panels and a solar hot water heater, climate activists must have felt slightly offended despite the good news. After all, it was only a month ago that the Obama administration turned down Bill McKibben and a group of college students who had traveled all the way to DC from Maine with the objective of returning the solar panels that Jimmy Carter installed on the White House (and were later removed by Ronald Reagan).
At the time, many speculated that the White House simply didn’t want to be associated with anything from the Carter administration. As Salon put it:
The Obama administration’s reluctance to put a Carter-era solar panel on the White House roof was understandable, even if repulsively pusillanimous. The last thing the White House wanted to do was to give the right another talking point comparing Obama to Jimmy Carter. You can see the wheels turning — Carter put solar panels on the White House, and ended up a one-term president mocked for decades by Republicans…. run away!!!
Apparently the White House figured if it waited a month (after everyone forgot about the student activists) and announced its own plan to install solar panels (new ones, untarnished by the Carter Administration) it could claim all of the glory and none of the conservative backlash. But best laid plans seldom work.
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The Drudge Report was quick to post a big black-and-white photo of Carter next to its headline about the latest solar panel announcement. And climate activists are still planning to hold a rally at the White House for the 10/10/10 Global Work Party, where they will attempt to re-present the original Carter solar panels.
Of course, had the White House handled things more openly, as Salon pointed out, this announcement could have been the positive gesture everyone (minus right-wing pundits) wanted it to be.
When McKibben and his cohorts arrived at the White House, the “bureaucrats” could have politely told them that, while it didn’t make sense to install some 30-year-old technology on the premises, they did nonetheless intend to make a big solar push. There would still be a hit from the right-wing news cycle, but, more important, Obama would have given his own supporters a reason to feel good.
Instead, the White House managed to bum environmentalists out, and then, a few weeks later, go ahead and invite the Carter-Obama comparison anyway. That’s just bungled political management.